Lame Wayne: Austin Powers (1997)

[So long ago, as in May 22, 1997, the Film Doctor was just breaking into print in a newspaper for the first time. He was not a fan of early Austin Powers.]

Often a delight, movie reviewing can be grim work. You learn not to trust critics. Newsweek liked Austin Powers and panned The Fifth Element. I had the opposite reaction.

In Mike Myer's attempts to lampoon James Bond films, The Avengers, and late '60s mod culture, he ends up showing you that he's seen the same movies you have. Remember Spy Hard (1996)? James Bond has been so familiar to us all by now as an institution, a way of life, and a corporate fantasy, satirizing him has become a cliche.

In the Wayne's World of TV and two mega-grossing films, Mike's cheerful Dumb and Dumber act often worked because he was playfully making fun of his own heritage. There was very little transition between the Saturday Night Live skits and his own upbringing in suburban leftover '70s America. It was funny to see Mike's and Dana Carvey's pitiful attempts to live out their rock and roll fantasies, giving the sophomoric humor a human poignancy.

In Austin Powers, we see what happens when a mega-selling young comic gets complacent with success. Myer's attempt to graft himself into British mod culture becomes a mere exercise in adopting a style, some groovy slang, and an accent. Now we've lost Carvey as a sidekick, and Myers replaces him with Elizabeth Hurley, who plays a straight-woman role much like Priscilla Presley's in the Naked Gun series. Hurley is a strikingly beautiful model and for all I know a talented actress, so it's painful to watch her reduce herself to the parameters of this movie.

So what happens? Myers begins the film with some humorous references to Hard Days Night and Blow Up, but pretty soon we get mired in a retread Dr. No plot with the now tired Brady Bunch Movie device of transposing late 60s hip London Austin into the 90's. Myers indulges in bathroom humor, male anatomy jokes, and Airplane-esque sight gags that sometimes look highly improvised. Sometimes the gags go on too long in their self-ironic stupidity; sometimes they don't work at all. Hurley lectures Austin on AIDS, Dr. Evil (played by Myers) threatens world conquest, the audience giggles about every half hour.

Myer's humor is as adolescent as ever, so expect lots of mod bouffant blondes with exploding body parts when the storyline drags.

Some day in the future, as you drift through the new movie section of the video story, bored, wondering what to rent, and you see all those copies of Austin Powers there on the shelf with the hip '60s funkadelic colorful design on the box, you might think the movie might be cute, might be a fun way to wile away a bored afternoon. I don't think so.